U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Acts of Omission: An Overview of Child Neglect

NCJ Number
Date Published
10 pages
This report provides an overview of the social problem of child neglect, the most prevalent type of child maltreatment.
According to this report, more children suffer from neglect than from any other type of child maltreatment. The topics addressed in this report include an overview of the prevalence of child neglect; a discussion of what constitutes neglect; a special issues section discussing the roles poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence have on neglect; characteristics of neglected children and their families; and the consequences of neglect, interventions, and current research. The report begins with a discussion of the problem of defining child neglect. Although the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act provides minimum standards for child neglect, each State and each jurisdiction may create their own definitions for child neglect. Considerations such as parental intent to harm and actual harm versus an environment where harm is considered imminent are crucial issues that need to be addressed when defining child neglect. The report then presents a “special issues” section that shows links between child neglect and poverty, parental substance abuse, and domestic violence. The link between poverty and neglect has much to do with the family living in dilapidated housing that presents risks such as exposure to lead-based paint and exposed electrical wires. Families living in poverty also often live in high crime areas and have limited access to adequate health care. Only one-third of States consider a family’s financial situation in their definition of child neglect. Parental substance abuse is linked to a lack of employment, exposure to a criminal lifestyle, and inadequate supervision. Domestic violence is said to present an injurious environment, which may result in a finding of failure to protect. This report explains that the consequences of neglect for children may include behavioral, social, academic, and medical problems. Treatment guidelines for child neglect are presented in the section on interventions. A discussion of the role of Child Protective Services, as well as its’ shortcomings, is included. The report concludes by offering a quick glance at some of the recent research concerning child neglect, which has historically been an under-studied topic. References